memories from the past

The Colosseum is known for the spectacular and bloody fights of gladiators and wild animals, but when the ancient times ended, silence fell upon the forgotten ruins and a new life for the monument started. Actually many different lives.

The building, symbol of a pagan authority that persecuted the Christians, was looted for centuries and cursed with dark legends. Only in 1750 the pope ruling Rome decided to rededicate the monument and free it from the bad presences that haunted it. This pope was Benedict XIV who raised a cross in the center of the Arena field and 14 altars to commemorate the passion of Christ in preparation for Easter.

The pagan monument became a center of pilgrimage and the stage where every Holy Friday the “Walk of Christ” (Via Crucis) was performed. With the archeological excavations these traces of a Catholic use have been canceled, but the procession still takes place. For 2017 the superintendence of Rome has decided to restore and rebuild one of the 14 altars that will be unveiled for the procession of April, 14.

A great occasion to see something old and new, pagan and Christian at the same time, that truly symbolises the spirit of this city and its never-ending, beautiful contradictions.

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all that glitters ain’t gold

Bernardino Spada was a member of an important Roman family and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church. Respecting his position he was also a refined collector and a cultured intellectual even when joking his guests.

In the century of the scientific revolution he was living, that gave so much importance to the proven evidence, a philosophic question was blowing the minds: is the sensed reality nothing but an misleading game in which easy is to cheat?

Bernardino decided to create in the secret garden of his magnificent Palazzo Spada an optical illusion bestowing the execution to the genius of architect Francesco Borromini. The witty cardinal used to bring his friends there, showing from far a nice gallery made of marble and mosaics leading to a distant garden embellished with square trimmed bushes.

But as the foot got closer or inside the gallery the visitor discovered that marble was plaster and the gallery was much shorter and little than it looked, and that the garden in the end was just painted. Everything was fake and everything can be faked! How can you defend from this offense?

This thorny question is definitely present especially in a period when the tools for faking are accessible not only to a genius like Francesco Borromini but even to the ones with lousy abilities. So Bernardino’s invitation is to verify, touch, get into the problem to reveal the true nature of what may appear different to a superficial eye.

let’s swing!

Rome has been great theatre where beauty starred the leading role. One of the best performers on the stage of the 17th c. was architect Francesco Borromini whose powerful imagination embodied the whimsical character of the Baroque art.

Some of his strangest creations were for the church of Santa Andrea delle Fratte. The church has no dome because of the artist’s premature death, but Francesco Borromini was able to achieve the drum, that’s the typical support for the dome, as an x-shaped cross, symbol of Andrew’s martyrdom.

He also made the bell tower which stands absolutely white against the bricks of the church. This tower is used to enjoy not only the pleasure of ringing the bell but also the pleasure of dancing, or to be more correct, swinging!

The secret, as for any dancer, is the elasticity of the body, imparted by the genial Borromini with his thin pillars and curvy elements topped by a flaming crown.

the donkey ears

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the undiscussed master of Roman baroque: with his talent and his charming personality he was sought after by popes, cardinals and princes. He worked for all the powerful men of his times achieving spectacular works like the canopy for St. Peter’s, the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, the Apollo and Daphne.

The trust that his committents had in him was absolute and he was praised even in his failures. He was commissioned by pope Urban VIII to embellish the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres that is the name given to the pagan temple Pantheon after it was cansecrated to the Christian cult.

Bernini made two horrible bell towers that were named by the “uneducated” people the donkey ears referring to the poor ability of Bernini as an architect and underlining how awkwardly they paired with the ancient beautiful building. The bell towers were not removed until 1883 when it was decided for the demolition giving back to the Pantheon its original harmony.

as silent as a stone… that’s not always true!

We sat as silent as a stone / We knew, though she’d not said a word / That even the best of love must die

These gloomy words come from “A Memory of Youth” by W. B. Yeats who evidently didn’t know the strange peculiarity of the Roman stones.

Until 150 years ago the Romans lived in a city controlled by the Papacy and the Church, in times when freedom of expression was not considered a fundamental right. The sharp tongue of the people was not appreciated neither later, when Rome became the capital city of the Kingdom of Italy and finally of the Italian Republic. But the Romans have always known their territory and the primary goods it could offer such as, for example, abandoned sculptures reduced to ruins and used to decorate crossroads or junctions.

These sculptures became the voice of the people: when they wanted to protest against abuses, taxes, the hypocrisy of the power (i.e. the Pope and his court) invectives and sarcastic poems written by anonymous were attached during the night to the statues, which could in this way “talk”. They were a number of elements which formed the so-called “Congresso degli Arguti” (the congress of the witty ones): there was Pasquino close to Piazza Navona, Madama Lucrezia near Piazza Venezia, Abbot Luigi in Piazza Vidoni and Marforio that was formerly in the Roman Forum.

Actually the poems were not written by the people, who were in large part analphabet, but by intellectuals who collected the rumours on the streets. This tradition went on until few years ago when it was prohibited for “decency” reasons. As you can see, fantasy can overcome any barrier so it’s time to invent something new!

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